Post-Second World War influences
After the Second World War, tension between the Soviet Union and its former Western allies, led by the US, developed into what became known as the Cold War. Many former European colonies were becoming independent nations.
Korea had been a Japanese colony since 1910. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Korea was occupied by Soviet forces in the north and US forces in the south. Separate governments were set up in the north and the south.
In 1950 the communist northern government invaded the south. The US sent in troops, and New Zealand joined a United Nations multinational force. Fighting ended in July 1953, but a peace settlement was never achieved. New Zealand troops were in Korea until 1957, and 45 died.
Involvement in the Korean War was not controversial with New Zealanders, and the war led to a boom in wool prices, benefiting farmers.
In 1954 New Zealand became part of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), which planned the defence of the region.
New Zealand forces took part in Malayan Emergency operations against communist fighters from 1949. From 1964 to 1966 New Zealand helped counter Indonesian attacks on Malaysia.
The French, who had colonised Vietnam, were defeated by Vietnamese nationalists in 1954, leaving a communist government in the north, and in the south a US-supported government which was soon challenged by communist guerrillas. The Americans believed that if South Vietnam became communist, so would the rest of South-East Asia – the ‘domino theory’. Despite US pressure, New Zealand preferred to send humanitarian rather than military aid, and stationed a medical team in South Vietnam from 1963. The US sent troops to Vietnam from 1965, and New Zealand reluctantly provided a small force. A growing number of New Zealanders opposed involvement in the war. When the US began to withdraw troops from 1969, so did New Zealand.
Some New Zealanders who served in Vietnam felt that their contribution had not been recognised, and some had health problems due to use of the defoliant Agent Orange. In 2008 Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised to Vietnam veterans.
Later Asian wars
New Zealand has also served in:
- East Timor (from 1999), where there was civil unrest as the country became independent
- Kuwait, after Iraq invaded in 1990
- Afghanistan, helping the US fight the Taliban.